Laser additive manufacturing (LAM) is an innovative technique, initially developed to manufacture models and prototypes but now also used for in-production machine parts. The process is majorly used for metals, however it can also be used for polymers and also for edible materials. Unlike the traditional manufacturing technique, which uses a sheet or a block of metal to carve out a machine part, LAM uses laser power to melt a layer of powered metal. This is done several thousand times thereby by adding multiple layers to form an object. Thus it is called additive manufacturing.
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Using LAM, one can manufacture object with any shape and complexity. For more complex objects such as fuel injection parts which have microscopic holes, high precision lasers are used. The additive manufacturing process is viewed as a high potential process due to the cost effective and environment friendly solutions it provides to the manufacturer. Since it is an additive procedure, practically, there is a zero loss of raw material. Apart from being cost effective, it is a high speed process. The laser scan heads move at a tremendous speed which adds a material layer in a blink of an eye. LAM techniques are not only being adopted by the machine part manufacturer, but also by the healthcare segment. The process is being tested for manufacturing prosthetic body parts, dental caps, dental crowns, and artificial tooth.
However, the flip side is the lack of technical expertise and LAM facilities across the globe. These two factors are proving to be the major restraint for LAM process. Change is necessary; but difficult. Many technology promoters are seeing the huge potential, but are failing to penetrate it due to the resistance from manufacturers. All is not for a losing cause though. Many top OEM manufacturers such as BWM and Boeing have setup in-house innovation centre which are constantly in pursuit of mastering the additive manufacturing technology. Many other OEMs are expected to follow the trend.
Thus it can be concluded that though, LAM has immense potential; it has a long way to go before it is being integrated with the mainline manufacturing processes.
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